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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Airbnb official backs bill that would regulate short-term rentals

House Tourism Committee Chairman José Rivera Madera

By The Star Staff

An Airbnb official said Wednesday while participating in a hearing on House Bill 1557 that the vacation rental company supports legislation that would regulate short-term rentals.

“Compliance in Puerto Rico is a priority for Airbnb,” said Carlos Muñoz, director of public policies and Airbnb communications for Central America and the Caribbean, after the public hearing led by House Tourism Committee Chairman José “Cheíto” Rivera Madera. “A uniform and state regulation will help make viable the economic growth that the industry can continue to bring to the island.”

The lodging booking platform welcomed the legislation that calls for a uniform registry throughout the island so that the government can be informed about the number of accommodations and the growth of the sector. Likewise, Muñoz expressed agreement with the requirements of having a rental property’s tax registration number in a visible place, the inclusion of guidelines for the formulation of an emergency plan in the event of a possible hurricane, as well as the installation of smoke detectors and of carbon monoxide, in addition to fire extinguishers.

On the other hand, he stressed that the main concern regarding the House legislation is the limitation in residential areas to only 30% of the unit if they do not have a variation of use from residential to commercial by the local Permits Office (OGPE by its Spanish initials). If this continues, Muñoz said, it could affect thousands of Puerto Rico residents who today depend on the extra income they derive from their renting out homes on a short-term basis.

“In a residential area, Puerto Ricans who depend on the income they generate from short-term rentals will find it impossible to obtain a variance to obtain a commercial use permit,” Muñoz said. “On average, in 2022 an entire property in Puerto Rico rented an average of 80 nights a year and private rooms 27 nights. Short-term rental is a residential activity. There are Puerto Ricans who take advantage of different times of the year to generate extra income by renting their home.”

“At times when there is talk of a possible economic recession, it is extremely important that 92% of the hosts who are based on the island can continue generating their income and contributing to the country’s economy,” he added.

While Airbnb rentals are a popular investment in Puerto Rico, the STAR reported that the industry is tightly controlled by a few short-term rental firms, one of which belongs to the governor’s son, a situation that has resulted in increasing rental and property prices that are displacing the middle class and the poor.

Currently, San Juan is the city with the most short-term rentals at 3,800, according to data obtained by Norberto Quiñones Vilches, a data analyst working in the mainland U.S. Most of these properties are in coastal areas or tourism areas such as Old San Juan. Carolina has 1,842 short-term rentals, most of which are in Isla Verde. Naguabo, another coastal town outside of the San Juan metro area, has 74 properties, but Quiñones Vilches said it is growing. Humacao, meanwhile, has 400 units, Fajardo 700 units, Luquillo 800 and Río Grande 1,000.

Short-term accommodations have indeed contributed to the economic development of the island. The Airbnb official noted that according to a study by Oxford Economics, it is projected that the spending of visitors who travel through the platform, including accommodation and expenses in various sectors such as restaurants, transportation and entertainment, among others, will exceed $8 billion in 2025. During 2021, the impact was $1.7 billion (not including accommodation spending), Muñoz said.

Likewise, Muñoz noted that since 2017, Airbnb has withheld and paid to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (CTPR) more than $50 million for the payment of the room occupancy tax.

“We understand the concerns of the representatives, the hosts and the communities, so we want to continue collaborating in order to achieve a regulation that also benefits everyone in a uniform way,” Muñoz said.

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